Goodbye, Gustavus

October is a time of transitions. It is moving month for the fairies, a shift in seasons. The weather is dynamic. Our bodies struggle to acclimatize to changes in temperature as we prepare for winter.

In my own life, October seems to have become a time of physical and psychological transition, a time of reflection, of parting with people and place, and of personal discovery. Saying goodbye to people, places, and possessions doesn’t come easily for me.

It has been just over a year since I began my pilgrimage from Alaska to Arizona. I left on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry at the very beginning of October 2011. I remember watching the dock and mountains disappear from sight as the ferry negotiated icy Alaskan waters bound for Juneau.

It took two ferries to reach a road that would lead south toward the lower 48. I reached Skagway on a bright, crisp afternoon two days later and began the journey south—3,444.9 miles to the end of the road, the Granite Dells of Prescott, AZ. Blue, nearly cloudless skies, sunshine, acorn woodpeckers, and great, expansive cottonwood trees with branches reaching out in every direction, uncurling delicate leaf-laden fingertips to touch the firmament.

This journey marked the continuation of an intense period of letting go. It began at the end of October 2010, when I left Washington for the second time. My husband and I drove away from our home in separate cars. The driveway was long with deep gravel ruts and a grassy median that tickled the undercarriage of the as it passed above the blades. We paused side by side at the end and took one long, last look at the each other before slowing leaving the gravel for solid pavement. I drove west. He drove east. And I haven’t seen him since.

My first winter in Southeast Alaska was more difficult than I imagined. The summer after, a friend and coworker told me how brave she thought I was for coming up alone when I could have easily changed my mind. I was surprised. I didn’t think I was being brave at all. If anything, it was naiveté that led me north. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I am so very thankful for individuals like this friend and so many others who helped me through the most difficult period of my life. I am most thankful for those that held on and believed in the beauty and light they saw within me through the messiness of separation and divorce, the darkness of winter, the pain and the joy, and the process of shedding many, many layers of judgment, expectation, sacrifice, negative self image, and concern for others’ needs to find my inner voice. Thank you for believing in me at a time when I could not find any beauty in myself.

In October of 2011, I parted with a dear friend who made the journey south with me as far as Bellingham, WA. I met my dad in Seattle and left him at the airport with my beloved canine companion. I stopped in Portland and stayed with a dear friend from my cohort in the PhD program at Prescott College. Exhausted from the journey, my immune system gave way. She lovingly encouraged me to rest on her couch until I felt revived enough to continue the journey south. As strength returned, I could feel my intention to stay committed to this process continue.

It was in Portland that I welcomed a new companion into my life, one that would soon become as an extension of my being—my ukulele.

I began writing music that very night. I wrote a simple song whose melody and lyrics I would return to the following summer when I had built up enough confidence to believe in the melodies inside of me and find a way to release them in song.

Upon arriving in Arizona, I met with other cohort members for a group gathering. I also began working with my research partner, Malcolm, who believed more than I did in my potential as an artist, musician, and composer.

My eventual return to Alaska haunted me day and night. In the daytime, I struggled to breath through panic attacks. At night, members of the community visited me in my dreams.

Just before my furlough was to end, I was offered a position in Lowell, MA, a factory town in New England. Though not the message I was imagining from the universe, the decision was clear. I accepted, returned to Alaska for two weeks to officially resign from my position, say goodbyes to friends and to my home, pack up my belongings, and begin yet another life in a familiar but foreign land.

I didn’t know what I would find in Lowell, but like so many times of uncertainty in my life, I followed a voice inside that urged me onward. And like those many times of uncertainty, I am thankful for that voice and for the decision to go into the unknown.

I am who I am today because of that voice. It is a voice that grows stronger with each song I write, each kind word from family, friends, coworkers, and members of my community near and far. It grows stronger with each tour I offer in story and song at Lowell National Historical Park, honoring the voices of those who came before me and thanking them for their sacrifice and contribution to the continuing stories of Lowell.

I am still that same person who left Alaska. I carry with me painful memories from that time, memories I am still trying to make peace with. I also carry joyful memories from the people who became family and who I chose to leave behind in pursuit of a new life and identity, in the spirit of creating my own reality.

As those painful memories washed over me once again last night, I thought back to the person I was in Alaska, a woman on the brink of imagining a new identity for herself. Had I stayed, life would have continued. I would have gone to work each day uninspired, unchallenged, and without the courage or support to be my true self.

And so, in the spirit of simplifying and letting go, I have decided to change the title of this blog. I no longer live in Alaska. I live in Lowell. I do not yet know what path the universe may reveal to me next.

I am still very much on the path of personal discovery, of finding meaningful ways to give voice to my own stories and to those of the men and women in my community, both living and beyond.

I am becoming my own self.

I can only be myself and no one else.

I only wish to be myself and to help others find and celebrate their own voice.

I am ranger m.

I am marieke.

I am me.

This song is the second to last song I wrote during this summer’s month of music project. It is the finished version of the very first song I began writing on my brand new ukulele nearly a year earlier (the one I wrote about earlier in this post) on a dark night in Portland when I sat strumming for the first time.

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